Age of Sigmar: Actually Worth Your Time

Like a lot of folks, I was pretty skeptical of Age of Sigmar when it first was released- for a variety of reasons. But the General’s Handbook has completely changed all of that.

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Ninety-Nine Problems

When Age of Sigmar initially replaced Warhammer Fantasy, I wasn’t crying any real tears- the 8th Edition was a huge mess in a dozen different ways and the game had never, in fifteen years, had any significant following in my area. (I realize that there were places where it had a loyal cadre of players, but statistically speaking those were more the exception.) Its sales had been on the downslide for a long while despite a multitude of excellent model kit releases- which, incidentally, is a pretty good counterargument against the “we’re a model company not a game company” ethos- and the tournament scene had all but completely died.

So replacing Fantasy with something new was no crime on its own- however, its successor looked if anything even more of a disaster. No points values? Armies that could double their model count every turn? “Wacky” rules that only worked if you drank a beer or spelled things backwards? Age of Sigmar seemed to take all the worst aspects of 40K’s current state and mix them with the legacy problems that Fantasy had suffered from to create an unholy mishmash. Now, I’m not saying it was impossible to have fun with the game as it was released- some people did, I’m sure, and the new model releases for the Sigmarines and Khorne were above even the high bar that is typically assumed for GW’s products. There were things to like about the game, certainly, but taken as a whole it was not really playable for anyone who expected any real standards of balance or fairness. The makeshift wound limits, “pools,” and other systems many players used were flawed at best and misdirected at worst.

In short, I had no real hopes for Age of Sigmar. Its faults were different than its predecessor’s were, but no less damning for all that. I paid little attention to the various Battletomes (i.e. codices) that were released and the announcement of the General’s Handbook and the suggestion that it would have point values included in it barely even drew my notice. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

sigmar

Second Chances

It took a collection of our local players starting up an organized league to draw my attention to the changes that had happened in the game. Several of them had tried the game when it first was released and their games pretty much confirmed my impression- a Tzeentch summoning army (“borrowed” from 40K) rolled over most things in short order, units were wildly imbalanced compared to each other, etc, etc. But a few of those same players were now getting back into things and regular games seemed to be happening at our wargaming club as well as on a specialized night of its own. Responses seemed to be universally positive, even from players who had disliked it before- and while some of the participants were distinctly in the casual realm, some others were folks whose opinions and skills at gaming I respected. Something was definitely going on here.

So I borrowed a copy of the General’s Handbook as well as the .pdfs of the various armies released so far and did some reading. And I found, to my surprise, that I actually liked what I found- Age of Sigmar, with the rules changes and FAQs, was not merely a functional game but actually an enjoyable one. The system is still new enough- and few enough tournaments have been held- that it’s hard to say exactly how well it functions, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is at least as fair as 40K is and quite possibly a lot more. That’s not saying a lot, I realize, but it’s at least a starting point and if you hate some of the aspects of future Warhammer right now Age of Sigmar may be a lot more up your alley.

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Mission Critical

So what is it about the General’s Handbook that changes things so much, you ask? A few of the things are just obvious fixes for the absolute worst offenders in the game- the three “rules of one” (a ‘1’ on a die always fails, no more than one “chain” of wounds/attacks off an ability, no more than one of each spell cast per turn) all help a lot, as does toning down summoning to be a finite toolbox of points you can access rather than a way to get as many free models as you want. And of course adding in the points values is also a step that is absolutely critical- without that, none of the other changes really even mean anything. But what really impressed me about the book, and has continued to impress me the more I play games, are the missions.

Missions have been an issue in both 40K and Fantasy for a while now. 4th Edition 40K had a lot of them and they were really poorly balanced; 5th Edition only had a small handful and they tended to get repetitive. 6th/7th was where the game started to hit more of its stride, with out-of-the-box missions that were actually pretty playable. Similarly, Fantasy has mostly relied on Victory Points (i.e. total value of models killed) to resolve battles, with the “missions” just providing small bonuses to that tally up until 8th Edition came out. 8E introduced more 40K-style missions that involved trying to do a variety of things, but overall they were hard to call a success and had some very un-fun components to them.

Age of Sigmar’s missions, however, show that the designers put some actual thought and work into things. At a first glance there is nothing special about them- they mostly use the same one or two deployment types (corners, long board edges) and all revolve around capturing between two and four different objectives. However, anyone used to playing 40K or other games is in for a rude surprise they aren’t doing some very careful reading and thought because not only are the six missions quite different from each other, they each encourage very different styles of play- and that means they help open up the doors to a wide variety of army types.

age of sigmar artwork flesheaters courts battle

The first big thing that should be noted is that tabling your opponent is not a win condition, not in any of the missions. While it can sometimes make winning them vastly easier (or even trivial), it is no guarantee of victory by any means. This is good, because it means that playing to the mission is important– you cannot simply wipe your opponent out and assume you’ll win, because games only go to five turns. That puts a lot of pressure on players to be getting stuff done as early as possible and be active.

Above and beyond that, though, is the more important fact: although each of the six missions uses objectives, they all do so very differently from each other. In fact, the way you score objectives is not necessarily even the same from game to game- in some only heroes can hold objectives, in some you need a minimum number of models to hold them and cannot have any enemies at all nearby, in some you simply need the most models in range regardless of enemy presence. These radically different methods of scoring objectives means that different sorts of units (and thus armies) will have different advantages in holding them- Border War, for example, keys off of having the most models in range and thus rewards horde armies that swarm onto them and gum up the works. Three Places of Power, on the other hand, gives the objective to the first hero to get within range and doesn’t care if another one shows up later- you have to kill the original claimant in order to stop them from scoring points, so speedy heroes willing to get up close and personal with the enemy are a must. There are some small overlaps in the the game types, but taken as a whole it is actually shockingly diverse.

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The win conditions are also very different from each other, which adds to the variety of feels for the missions. Several of the missions are scored progressively, with players racking up points each turn based on the objectives they control (though the exact details vary); on the other hand, some missions have “sudden death” conditions that will cause the game to end immediately if they are fulfilled, such as holding every objective on the board, but are otherwise very difficult to complete and usually result in the game going to tiebreakers. But again, all of these different victory conditions only serve to heighten the diversity of armies that can participate; a force with lackluster damage output (but excellent survivability) can quite possibly grind its way to a win even though it is losing models at a much faster rate than the opponent and a maneuverable army can use its speed to take the initiative and begin scoring early on, putting the enemy on the back foot from the very beginning.

None of this means the game is without its problems- there are things I very much don’t like about it (such as the “random” turn order) and issues I still think need to be addressed. And though the tournament scene is still young, some of the factions seem to be pulling into a an obvious lead to start with- though it’s impossible to say if that will reverse itself, stay the course, or something else entirely. Some units are over- or under-costed by a significant amount and the bewildering subdivisions of factions (some of which literally only have a single model to their name) can be both confusing and obnoxious. But compared to where the game was when it was released, it is an improvement of absolutely unprecedented proportions.

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Drawing Conclusions

If I come off as a bit of a gushing fanboy in this article, you’ll have to forgive me- I had all but given up hope for Age of Sigmar and the possibility of playing swords-and-sorcery wargames in general. If you were in a similar situation, or if you’ve simply been sitting back and watching things, unsure of whether to try the game out, I can happily recommend that you give it a shot. In addition to its other strong points the General’s Handbook is a mere US$25, practically a pittance compared to most of GW’s rules books, and the excellent army starter bundles (as well as low overall model count in general) mean that getting into things is actually quite affordable.

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About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

33 Responses to “Age of Sigmar: Actually Worth Your Time”

  1. MatthewB September 20, 2016 9:36 am
    #

    I certainly saw the introduction of the General’s Handbook as the catalyst for starting an army. It meant I could buy a start collecting box, work out the points, and then paint up a small 1000pt army knowing exactly my time and money commitment. I had no interest in building an army without points, half of the fun is juggling what I will put in the army, not just putting continuous models down until I’m “done”. Warhammer Fantasy’s model requirements always put me off, so it’s been great to paint up a small force and get it painted quickly as well!

    After only two games I already enjoy it and use it as a great warm up to 40k or a Heresy game where the large amount of rules is beginning to seem quite bloated. Definitely looking forward to a few mission games soon! Cheers for the article 🙂

  2. Blight September 20, 2016 9:52 am
    #

    So far I am fine with all the sub divisions. You can still build your army with the entirety of your alliance. Only some of the sub divisions have extra rules for playing as only them and those forces are all fleshed out enough that they are easy to build as their own stand alone force.
    We’ll see where it goes but currently there is little negative to taking anything you want from the main alliance.

    • Requizen
      Requizen September 20, 2016 10:58 am
      #

      Agreed for many forces. Unless you play Sylvaneth and want the spells/artifacts, there’s no reason for an Order force not to drop in, say, a Celestial Hurricanum. Likewise there’s no reason for a Destruction army not to take a Thundertusk if they want unless you’re Bonesplittaz and want their special stuff.

      As more armies get specific lores and require Allegiance, this will die out a bit, as the bonuses are often way more useful than the tradeoff.

      In the meantime, if it affects the meta a lot, it could be up to TOs to put in restrictions of some sort. I personally don’t think it’s meta breaking, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

      • Adam
        Adam (RUMBL & TheDiceAbide.com) September 20, 2016 1:19 pm
        #

        Well, there’s still the Battleline requirement. If you do want that Thundertusk in your Ironjawz army, you’d better be sure to have 3 units of naturally battleline units. That means Ardboyz, Brutes and Gore-gruntas are not going to cut it, you’ll have to take regular Savage Orruks (which aren’t the good arrowboys), some grots, or ogors. The Battleline tax does wonders in building a reason to not mix and match.

        • blight September 20, 2016 6:53 pm
          #

          Well only some sub groups even have the battle one move. Ironjawz are designed to either be a self contained army with no shooting but good melee and defense or as the elite shock troops of a more rounded army.
          Though my original comment was in response to tiny sub alliances you find that don’t really have any benefit for just going with them. Like all ghosts. The sub alliances that do have special rules or move good units to battle line have bonuses for being pickier.
          Make sure when you build a list you pay attention to the keyword required for some of these. Quite a few people have missed that the helcanon has slaves to darkness as a key word.

  3. WestRider September 20, 2016 9:57 am
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    I’ve gotten in a couple of Games with my Daemons, and yeah, I’m really liking it so far. It’s got me picking up a couple of back-burner Modeling projects and I’m really looking forward to getting my Keeper of Secrets on the table this weekend.

    • Blight September 20, 2016 10:12 am
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      I like that any it like a keeper of secrets is actually usable. In 40k it’s quite possibly the worst greater daemon and you almost never see one when a DP with wings and telepathy is better. In 8th edition they just got blasted apart by cannons. Really all big monsters did.
      I love taking a big monster and have it actually be useful. Plus it actually gets weaker as it takes wounds giving it some parity with units of infantry.

      • Vercingatorix September 20, 2016 10:26 am
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        I prefer my monsters to be 100% effective or stone cold dead thank you. It is how God himself intended.

  4. Funbug No.1 September 20, 2016 10:31 am
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    Nice article, though it seems to refer exclusively to Matched Play, which is not the only way to play Age of Sigmar. It’s the most convenient way, for sure, and bound to be the most enjoyable format for a tournament-centric scene, but since its release Age of Sigmar has in many ways functioned as a toolkit for narrative wargamers too, and the General’s Handbook complements this way of playing just as much as it enables playing with (official) points. In fact the introduction of official points is a bit of a shame, since there are some really in-depth fan-made points-cost systems, such as PPC, which tournaments should be endorsing instead.

    I would be interested to know what rules you might change.

    • Requizen
      Requizen September 20, 2016 11:23 am
      #

      I do enjoy things like Path to Glory or the Narrative stuff, but it’s hard to write articles about them unless you’re doing batreps/writeups. Matched is what people are going to use to do strategy, tactics, and tournaments.

      I get that a lot of people put a lot of effort into PPC, but it’s much easier for the global tourney community to get behind official rulesets rather than fanmade point systems.

  5. AngryPanda September 20, 2016 11:35 am
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    At this point I sincerly hope the out of nowhere positive AOS coverage has been part of some package deal with GW since they reached out about being in the LVO and who knows what. Because that I could at least get. If it ain’t that I need to start snorting glue or something ’cause I can’t deal with the idea they got away with it otherwise.

    • Requizen
      Requizen September 20, 2016 11:52 am
      #

      What’s hard to believe, that AoS is good or that people would write positive articles about it without being paid?

      It’s a solid game, people are enjoying it. I don’t see how that’s difficult to understand.

      • AngryPanda September 20, 2016 12:12 pm
        #

        That’s two questions. Let’s see. Part 1:
        I have no issue beliving people will write positive articles about AOS. I’ve been in this hobby since 1995 and still hang on to GW stuff despite all the crap they did so clearly they can get away with a lot and we still love their stuff. And there’s always more loyal soldiers than me who will praise anything they do. I’ve seen it. Puppy is a pretty no-nonsense writer though so that breaks my brain.

        Part 2:
        This is not even AOS related. I’ve played almost all GW games. I’ve played lots of other wargames. At no point have I ever gotten the impression they are actualy good at writing games. Rare highlights being Necromunda and BFG that were good for their times. It’s not just that I have a hard time belieivng AOS is good. I have a hard time believing they are even capable of making it good. Their recent work on 40k certainly doesn’t inspire believe in the contrary.

        So there. Yes, based on my own experience with wargames I can not believe a four page rulebook with armies as varied as these can work. Based on my experience with GW I can not believe that if a four page rulebook could work they would be the ones to pull it off.

        That’s why it is difficult for me, based purely on my experience, to understand.

        • Requizen
          Requizen September 20, 2016 12:33 pm
          #

          Yeah man I’m totally with you. I didn’t think it would work either but after doing some test games I was 100% behind it and purchased myself a bunch of Stormcast.

          I don’t know how it’ll hold up once put through the tournament scene, but honestly I’ve been playing for a few months now and every game I’ve played has been fun, with only a couple rule issues (which were cleared up by looking at the FAQs).

          Honestly I’m of the opinion that 40k is kind of in a rough spot at the moment (to put it nicely), and it really feels to me like the AoS team has done a much better job overall.

        • Scotyknows September 20, 2016 12:39 pm
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          -At no point have I ever gotten the impression they are actualy good at writing games

          I really liked 3rd and 4th 40k you said you liked 2nd. The game(warhammer in general) has been around for decades, safe to say its a “good” game by many metrics.

          -I have a hard time believing they are even capable of making it good.

          How about you just go try the game instead of being some keyboard warrior trying to convince everybody that they cant possibly be having a good time.

          -based on my own experience with wargames I can not believe a four page rulebook.

          This statement basically tells me you know nothing about how AoS is played. The 4 page rules are just the surface, every warscroll/battalion has about a half page of rules to it, there are like 500 total warscrolls and 50+ battalions . Saying that the game is only about a 4 page rule set just makes you look very uninformed. That is merely the foundation, and its a solid foundation when you start trying to break it. FAQs, and community tournament organizers have helped as well. The game is practically built by the community after the initial flop.

          TLDR: you are just a negative nancy.

          • AngryPanda September 21, 2016 7:27 am
            #

            Oh dear this is one of those “you just don’t get the genius of GW” things. I guess I answered the others so let’s try this one too I guess.

            -“I really liked 3rd and 4th 40k you said you liked 2nd.”
            This misconception is having a close race with the imagined existance of WAAC players as a major group that exists for the single worst flaw among us fans. Liking something does not mean one has to think it has no flaws.
            I like a lot of movies that are objectively trash. That’s just fine.
            And 2nd edition was an utter clusterfuck of messed up rules, especialy in hindsight. Doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.

            -“The game(warhammer in general) has been around for decades,”
            That’s not one game. Especialy Warhammer. As they axed that one.

            -“safe to say its a “good” game by many metrics.”
            By that standard syphilis is a hit product. Also AOS is a far cry from even that so far. If it has any legs remains to be seen.

            -“How about you just go try the game instead of being some keyboard warrior trying to convince everybody that they cant possibly be having a good time. ”
            How about I don’t play a game I don’t like. Unless you wrote this on a touchscreen we are in the same league here. And if one of us should be busy playing AOS I’m reasonably sure it should be you.

            -“This statement basically tells me you know nothing about how AoS is played. ”
            Sigh this is the you just can’t see how good they are arguement that keeps popping up again. This may blow your mind but AOS is not the first game to have unit cards (they can name them warscrolls all they like) the concept isn’t new to anyone who ever saw Magic the Gathering and its been in Wargaming too for a long time. I’m aware how it works.
            And now you might want to hold on to your seat or something but I actualy have read those and tried the thing after it’s release. ’cause you know, WFB minis aren’t some sort of rarity among gamers.

            -“The game is practically built by the community after the initial flop.
            TLDR: you are just a negative nancy.”
            That I am. Usually I’d admire the work fans put into it to keep it floating and even if I do not like a game I say more power to anyone to enjoy it. But AOS was built for an audience they made up, with such utter disregard (I think disdain mit be more appropriate even) for their own fanbase and customers that I find the idea that they migth get away with it and actualy make it fly abhorent. If they pull this off, then there is no low to which they can not sink and get away with it and they know it. They could axe 40k and replace it with the Whacky Space Marine Race or whatever because they know no matter what we buy their stuff. And they’ll never have any motivation to even try to make balanced rules ever again.
            So yeah, I am as negative as can be then it comes to AOS. Not one tiny bit because of what the game is. But what it stands for and the attitude that made it happen.

    • Scotyknows September 20, 2016 11:54 am
      #

      Actually, I can say with complete certainty that AP is actually playing and enjoying the game and its not some PR campaign. I live in the same town as him and we have been playing a lot of AoS recently. I really wanted to use my ork brutes(models are sooooo cool!), so i started running an AoS map campaign to get the local players interested. So far its been lots of fun 🙂 Not everything is a conspiracy, try the game, you might like it.

      • AngryPanda September 20, 2016 12:04 pm
        #

        I see. Superglue or plastic then. I’m no expert in this. I might even have some basic Uhu or something.

    • gvcolor September 20, 2016 11:55 am
      #

      Lol – I don’t know, been playing AoS and really have a good time with it as are a number of 40K friends. No sense trying to convince anyone of anything. Compared to the rules Cluster F that 40K is now both in Core and Codexes, AoS is certainly in a better position as a game. In My Opinion.

      • AngryPanda September 20, 2016 12:19 pm
        #

        “Their other game is even worse” is not actualy any sort of praise.
        40k still has me ’cause of the IP and I keep hoping it will get better despite all evidence to the contrary. Think I’m not the only one there.

        • gvcolor September 20, 2016 12:42 pm
          #

          Haha – right on that. It’s the IP that has everyone coming back for more. Let’s face it, if AoS or 40k were cardboard counters on a hex-map they would be nowhere.

    • Scotyknows September 20, 2016 12:00 pm
      #

      I live in the same town and AP and I vouch for him actually playing in our campaign. Not everything is a conspiracy. Try the game. As a 40k player nostalgic of 3rd edition AoS is a breath of fresh air.

      • Scotyknows September 20, 2016 12:01 pm
        #

        DOUBLE POST! this website hates me!

        • AngryPanda September 20, 2016 12:21 pm
          #

          That’s not the website that’s me. ’cause 3rd edition is the garbage fire that ruined our wonderful fun in 2nd! *shakes fist*



          Now someone needs to come in and tell me I’m an idiot ’cause Rogue Trader is there its at.

          • WestRider September 20, 2016 7:21 pm
            #

            Takes all types, I guess. 3rd Ed was responsible for me staying in the Game. 2nd was a clusterfuck of pointless detail, terrible Game balance, and time-consuming crap that 99% of the time didn’t actually matter. I’ve been very disappointed that the last couple of Editions have seemed like they were headed back that direction, just with vastly greater model count.

    • gvcolor September 20, 2016 12:08 pm
      #

      I hear Citadel brand is recommended 😀

      • AngryPanda September 20, 2016 12:18 pm
        #

        I appreciate the advice 🙂

  6. Petey Pab
    Petey Pab September 20, 2016 8:02 pm
    #

    You didn’t sound like a fanboy Puppy. This was a great article and a great read. Thanks!

  7. Crispy86 September 20, 2016 8:13 pm
    #

    I’ve been busting out the AOS since the generals handbook hit and I agree on the missions being pretty balanced. I’ve actually found the game overall fairly balanced, I’ve played games with some pretty trashy lists against some pretty powerful combos and never felt like I had no way to win.

  8. Grom September 20, 2016 9:46 pm
    #

    The random turn order is an excellent tactical feature that rewards planning. It seems harsh at first when you go first, move forward and then get double turned. But with practice and experience you begin to embrace the mechanic and integrate it into your strategy. I think the game is better for it.

  9. Grom September 20, 2016 9:50 pm
    #

    Regarding the criticism of the random turn order, on first plays it seems rough but with repeated plays one learns to integrate strategy with the mechanic to benefit from the inevitable double turn and to hedge against an opponent’s double turn. This mechanic enhances the game.

  10. Heldericht September 22, 2016 12:10 pm
    #

    The game seems balanced because it hasn’t been tested yet in the tournament scene. Come LVO and we see people going for top spot. We’ll see how balanced the lists are. Reece already said in a podcast that when they were in the UK talking to one of the top players they learned about a lot of combos and they themselves were seeing how games were ending by turn 2 because the other army got decimated. I feel like the AoS bubble will burst at some point.

    I’m glad AoS is doing well as that means GW is doing well and we want GW to do well so 40k flourishes too. I personally would love to see some more 40k stuff around here. Seems like on Signals from the Frontline everyone ends up talking about AoS more than 40k.

    • Requizen
      Requizen September 22, 2016 1:34 pm
      #

      I don’t think there’s any sort of illusion that AoS is perfectly balanced and you can bring literally anything and have a shot at winning. I think the feeling of good balance is coming from there not (currently) being any particular list/army extremely overtuned compared to anything else, while you see sort of the opposite in 40k at the moment.

      Of course there are going to be good lists over bad lists. Games being decided by turn 2, however, I think is a fleeting thing. Once people learn to deal with alpha strike/shooting heavy lists, and learn the game/combos in general, that sort of thing will die down. And yeah, until we see what the shit-kicker lists are in a few tournies, we won’t really know what to look out for.